Reviewed by Tim Treanor
Tramps and Vamps (Ruffian on the Stair/Vampire Lesbians of Sodom), Actors Theater of Washington
The great immortal succubus, stage name La Condesa (Nanna Ingvarsson) requires the blood of virgin women to continue living – or rather continue undying. A woman (Rick Hammerly) of indeterminate age (she says fourteen), having experienced the world’s worst lottery luck, is selected to appease the monster’s appetite. But as the succubus bites into the poor little victim (Hammerly looks to be about six feet tall), the victim bites back – thus assuring that not one but two vampires will catapult after each other throughout history. Two of their battlegrounds take place in those two Meccas of virginity, 1920s Hollywood and 1980s Las Vegas.
How can anyone not like Vampire Lesbians of Sodom, as done by Actors Theater of Washington? Wonderful, artless cheesiness melts through this production like a mother’s love on valium. Ingvarsson and Hammerley, neither particularly vampirish nor discernibly lesbian, ramp it up and camp it up for seventy giddy minutes, periodically swooping into the audience to hiss and snarl at some supposed foe or to cuddle with a surprised audience member. They are imbued with supernatural powers, but when they’re really in trouble they do what all sophisticated vampires do: they call their agents.
There is not much of a plot to this inspired bit of nonsense, but the production values are terrific. Greg Stevens’ costumes are so lively that it would be no surprise if they got up and started walking around by themselves, and Director Jeffrey Johnson, who appears briefly in the ensemble, keeps things moving smartly.
A swell supporting cast backs Hammerly and Ingvarsson. I particularly liked the brand of camp Ray Hagen brought to his role as an aging member of Hammerly’s troupe. I now know what Mr. Magoo would have been like if he had been gay and a dancer. As for Hammerly, he was marvelous, baby.
Apparently in order to bulk up the production to feature length, the Actor’s Theatre paired Vampire Lesbians with a production of The Ruffian on the Stair, Joe Orton’s first play. This was probably a mistake. Ruffian is relentlessly serious and seriously tragic. It is a little disorienting to go from all the Sturm und Drang of Orton’s play to the campy silliness of Vampire Lesbians.
In Ruffian, Joyce (Rosemary Regan) is menaced by a stranger (Ashley Ivey) who demands, and then obtains, access to her apartment after her husband (John C. Bailey) leaves. But Things Are Not As They Seem. Joyce is mysteriously attracted to the stranger. Michael is mysteriously attracted to the stranger. There is an unexplained death. The dead man’s fiancé is mysteriously attracted to the stranger. And so on.
This play shows many of the rhetorical gifts which later made Orton, briefly, one of the most important voices of his generation. But it lacks discipline, craft and subtlety. Orton’s misogyny is at full yawlping volume here. Joyce, it turns out, is a woman of easy virtue. Her mother, a prostitute, died in a doorway, in the act. Her grandmother – but you get the picture. In the meantime, the dead man’s callous fiancé dies her wedding dress blue so that she can wear it to cocktail parties. Jeez Louise, Joe, give it a rest.
The story has as many dead ends as the Mideast conflict. Joyce, it turns out, has another name – Maddy. Why? It’s never used. The stranger has a will in his pocket. Why? It never comes out.
The production does not rescue the script. Ivey does a good job with the stranger, but Regan did not show to best advantage. Her voice sounded strained and she was fighting the lines.
In both shows, the Actors Theatre makes an interesting, and successful, choice. Rather than struggle with bulky and complicated sets, they simply project the backdrop onto a blank wall with light and film. This worked well, particularly in Ruffian. For Vampire Lesbians, I’m afraid I was enjoying the show too much to notice.
Tramps and Vamps, being The Ruffian on the Stair and Vampire Lesbians of Sodom, runs at the Church Street Theatre runs from next Friday to August 19, Thursdays through Saturdays at 8 and Sundays at 7. You can get tickets at their website: www.atwdc.org,